Flight simulator training takes off

Posted: Wednesday, December 08, 2004


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  The simulator has a screen showing the cockpit controls for the selected aircraft and the view from the front of the plane. The screen above depicts a Cessna 170 on final approach from the west to Anchorage International Airport. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Jerry Morris of the Medallion Foundation works Tuesday morning to set up a flight simulator at Kenai Municipal Airport.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

In Alaska, where most of the state isn't accessible by road, air travel is a big deal. But while the state's residents are famous for a willingness to take to the skies, Alaska also has earned a distinction as one of the most dangerous places in the world for fliers.

That's why increased efforts are being made statewide to improve pilot training and safety in the skies. As part of that effort, Kenai Municipal Airport has just received a state-of-the art flight simulator through the Medallion Foundation, a nonprofit company dedicated to improving flight safety in Alaska.

The Advance Training Device (ATD) allows pilots as well as pilots in training to practice their skills while still on the ground. The machine, which was installed Monday in the south end of the airport terminal, is a highly realistic device that can be programmed to put pilots through a variety of situations.

"We can make it extremely realistic," Medallion simulator program manager Jerry Morris said Tuesday while demonstrating the equipment.

Morris said the ATD device runs two kinds of PC-based software programs, the Elite program and Microsoft Flight Simulator. Each has its benefits, he said.

"The Elite flies good but has average graphics," he said. "Microsoft flies OK but has great graphics."

A pilot wanting to get more practice on instrument flying would use the Elite program, while someone wanting a more realistic look at terrain say, between Portage and Whittier would use the Microsoft program.


The simulator has a screen showing the cockpit controls for the selected aircraft and the view from the front of the plane. The screen above depicts a Cessna 170 on final approach from the west to Anchorage International Airport.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

The Medallion Foundation's presence in Kenai will allow pilots and air carriers to improve their individual skills as well as earn a safety rating from the foundation, which can improve a carrier's insurance rates.

Medallion director of airmanship programs Mike Pannone said Tuesday that more and more pilots and companies are beginning to see the benefit of following the group's safety program.

"Insurance companies are giving reductions for those participants that are doing the job," Pannone said.

Use of the equipment is free to participants in the Medallion program, and funding comes from the federal government, which has approved $7.5 million for the program since its inception in 2002, according to Medallion Communications Director Marina Carey Jarvis.

Jarvis said the program has a big supporter in Sen. Ted Stevens, who has been instrumental in securing funding. He allows the foundation to use the quote, "If they're not in the Medallion program, then don't get on the aircraft," in company literature.

Stevens, who survived a 1978 plane crash that killed his first wife, Ann, has a vested interest in improving Alaska's air safety record.

"He's got personal experience from which he speaks," Carey Jarvis said.

Such intensive safety programs are needed in Alaska, where more than 100 crashes occur each year and more than 170 people have died in plane crashes over the past decade.

Many of those crashes involve bad weather, something the ADT can prepare pilots for before they get into risky situations. Because it can be programmed for any type of inclement weather, pilots can use the simulator to get acquainted with trouble before getting into a potential life-threatening situation.

"You can't go out and fly your plane from here to Seward in (bad) weather, because you might die," Morris said.

In addition to being able to get practice in bad weather, Morris said the simulator will allow pilots to get virtual time in the sky without having to spend money on gas.

"It can save them money," he said.

To demonstrate the new technology, an open house was held for the public Tuesday at the airport. Earlier this year, the Kenai City Council appropriated funds to create the small room that houses the simulator.

The simulator is available for use by certified pilots, as well as student pilots who are participants in the Medallion safety program. Pannone said participation in the program requires that pilots adhere to certain standards of aircraft safety.

"What's required is a commitment of a certain level of safety and risk management," he said.

Currently, Pannone said more than 62 air carriers and nearly 700 private pilots in Alaska are participants in the program.

The simulator will be available for use during all hours that the terminal is open. For more information on the program, visit the foundation's Web site at medallionfoundation.org or contact Kenai Municipal Airport at 283-7951.

Kenai is the 10th Alaska city to receive an ADT device. Currently, 13 simulators are available across the state, including locations in Anchorage, Barrow, Bethel, Fairbanks, Juneau, Ketchikan, King Salmon, Nome and Talkeetna.

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